This month marks the tenth anniversary of the death of IRA Volunteer Paddy Kelly.
Paddy Kelly was brought up in Co.Laois and could very easily have ignored the "troubles'' in the North. However from an early age he was eager to learn about Britain's involvement in Ireland and became deeply concerned at the plight of his fellow Irish people in the Six Counties.
He came to believe that he had a duty to do something about this and he became an active republican.
Paddy was very conscious about his own security and kept a very low profile in his native Laois where many local Republicans did not know of his connections. He moved up into the border area, engaging in countless operations against the British.
His enthusiasm for the fight, his courage in the face of danger and his sense of humour gained him great respect among many people who were to become lifelong friends and comrades.
In particular, he was to become accepted by the very close-knit Republican community in South Armagh as one of their own.
Paddy's ingenuity, quick thinking and sense of humour extricated him and his comrades from many a situation.
On one occasion along the border he was stopped by a Brit patrol while returning in a car with a comrade from preparing a load of explosive mix. A Brit enquired about the strong smell of deisel coming from the car. Paddy cracked a joke about the car being a "bucket'' and how the leak in the engine stinking the car out was having an adverse effect on his love-life. Luckily the Brit didn't open the bonnet or he'd have discovered that the car had a petrol engine.
On another occasion while transporting some gear across the border the van he was driving broke down. While Paddy was bent over the bonnet a Brit patrol arrived on the scene and enquired what the problem was. Paddy explained that the engine was playing up and had stalled on him. The Brit told Paddy that it was getting dark and he'd be wise not to leave the van in that area as it would be away by the morning.
He suggested a push might get the van started and Paddy, thinking about the gear in the back, happily agreed. All the Brits lent a shoulder and the van started. A toot of the horn, a wave of his hand out the window and a smile on his face and Paddy was on his way again - another successful mission accomplished.
No task was too great for Paddy and he took every opportunity to engage the enemy. He had his own business which could have made him quite wealthy but his republican activities were always more important to him.
When approached to work with the IRA's England Department, Paddy, true to form, did not hesitate. He proved a dedicated Volunteer and an extremely valuable asset in the England Campaign.
In 1992 Paddy was arrested in England in connection with a four-ton bomb found on a lorry apparently destined for the centre of London. This incident earned Paddy the affectionate nickname of "Four-ton'' while in the jails there. Sentenced to 25 years Paddy remained unbroken.
He met up with comrades in the jails in England, many of whom had been there for over 20 years, and he became known for his good nature, his staunchness and his sense of humour revealed in the many hilarious stories he told.
After the IRA ceasefire was announced in August 1994, rather than experiencing a relaxation in the repressive conditions in the jails in England, Republican POWs were to witness an increase in draconian measures introduced by the British Minister, Michael Howard. Increased strip-searching, closed visits, ghosting to other jails, solitary confinement became the norm and all transfers to Ireland were stopped.
As a result, by December 1994 Paddy and his comrades found themselves on a non-co-operation protest in Full Sutton Special Secure Unit (SSU). By December 1994 when the rest of the world was expecting movement from the British government towards a lasting peace in Ireland, Paddy was beginning the first of many months of protest in solitary confinement.
Paddy had previously undergone an operation for skin cancer which appeared to have been successful.
However, while in jail, although it was quite obvious to him and his comrades that the problem had re-occurred, he was denied treatment by the prison authorities who at first denied a problem existed and then deliberately dragged their heels when his condition worsened. During the time on protest Paddy suffered the pain with no treatment whatsoever. When he and two comrades were moved to Whitemoor SSU in July 1995 a "no-wash' protest began.
Paddy's condition was causing increasing concern but he refused to come off the protest - even when the prison authorities refused him access to a consultant (provided by his solicitor Gareth Pierce and Fianna Fáil TD Eamonn O'Cuiv) unless he complied with prison rules.
Eventually pressure forced the British government to allow the consultant to see him without preconditions. However, even after cancer was confirmed the British Home Office dragged its feet. Several weeks later he was brought to an outside hospital, chained to a bed and under armed guard.
Paddy had been demanding an end to the repressive regime of the SSU and a transfer to Ireland. However, immediately after his operation he was returned to the punishment block in the SSU from where he'd come and, true to form, rejoined his remaining comrade on protest, which was to continue for several months.
Eventually international opinion forced the British to repatriate Paddy to Portlaoise Gaol where his deteriorating condition led to his release on compassionate grounds. He died on Wednesday 11 June 1997 at the home of his long-term partner Angela and his family, in his native Laois. Ironically this is also the month when his comrade Michael Gaughan died.
Like Paddy he died as a result of gross neglect and inhuman treatment at the hands of his British captors.
Sinn Féin Councillor Brian Stanley said
“Paddy was a dedicated and determined republican – highly respected the length and breath of Ireland. He served time in some of the worst prison conditions in what were called Secure Units – units that both Paddy and his comrade Mick O’Brien described as ‘steel tanks’ with minimum lighting, poor sanitation and often no mattress as the POWs spent a lot of time on protest against the appalling conditions"
The 10th Anniversary is being marked this Sunday at 2.30pm at the Railway Bridge, Killenard.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam